Bible Reading: As a Means of War and Worship | pt. 3

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There is no shortage of resources available regarding the subject of Christian worship. Just visit your favorite bookstore or online retailer and enter “worship” in the search bar and you’ll find a plethora of recommendations. You’ll see resources that range from the worship culture of ancient Israel to the modern church’s form of worship through song. But what exactly is worship? We must answer this question correctly and then we must answer subsequent questions – Who is to be worshiped and What does acceptable worship look like? – to form a more accurate definition.

Worship – What is it?

Worship is generally defined as an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity.  Biblically, we must understand how the inspired writers of Scripture defined and used worship. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for worship is שָׁחָה (pronounced shacah) and it means to bow down or prostrate oneself before God. This word was used 172 times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the Greek word for worship is προσκυνέω (pronounced proskuneo) and it means kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication. This word was used 65 times in the New Testament and the similarity of definitions is striking.

To answer the second question, worship was only to be directed toward the triune God. Worship toward anything or anyone else is the chief sin against God and the pathway to all other forms of sin. This was Israel’s first and second commands as the LORD was constituting them at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:3-6). Israel was to have no other God before Him and they were not to fashion any sort of idol to bow down to as a representation of Him.

The answers to these two questions set the framework for acceptable worship. Both definitions of worship from each testament include physical prostration or a bowing down. This physical prostration, I believe, is a visible manifestation of one’s heart or attitude of humility and honor. Humility and honor are right responses to God, the maker of heaven and earth and the fullness thereof! With respect to this imagery, worship is more appropriately defined as a right response to the character and worth of God. New Testament scholar, D.A. Carson offers the following definition – Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because his is worthy, delightfully so. 1

But how does one express such reverent responses of honor to God? What are acceptable forms of worship? If we’re considering corporate worship settings, some advocate for the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) and others advocate for the Normative Principle of Worship (NPW). If we’re considering our individual worship, I believe the New Testament commands what is described in Carson’s definition. Worship is a lifestyle response to the worth of our Creator.

The Bible: A Means of Worship

In the epistle to the Romans, after explaining the merciful indicatives of their regeneration, Paul exhorts the believers at Rome to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that is by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

Here we see the direct call to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, which was their spiritual worship. Then we see the exhortation to not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of the mind, that by testing they may discern the will of God. Worship involves both mind and body according to Paul. But where is the will of God found? The Scriptures. If we are to worship God according to his will, we must be well acquainted with the Scriptures. Since Mt. Sinai, God has used His written word to form, shape, remind, and disciple His people. Obeying His word is worship. Consider how the Scriptures themselves testify to its necessity for worship within the covenant community. 

  • God wrote the Law on two tablets of testimony that was to govern the people. – Exodus 32:15-16, Deuteronomy 5:22
  • God told Moses to make two more tablets for testimony after gold calf idol incident. – Exodus 34:1, Deuteronomy 10:1-5
  • Israel was to have written reminders of God’s law within their community. – Deuteronomy 6:1-9; 11:18-20
  • Moses wrote Deuteronomy (2nd giving of Law) and it was to be read before the nation every 7 years. – Deuteronomy 31:9-13
  • The LORD instructs Joshua to obey the Book of the Law. – Joshua 1:7-8
  • God warns Solomon of judgment if he refuses to obey His word. – 1 Kings 9:6-9
  • The Lord sent the (writing) Prophets, who were covenant enforcers, to warn His covenant people about their covenant breaking. (see Isaiah – Malachi)
  • Ezra and others were used to read and explain the Law to the exiles that have returned and rebuilt Jerusalem. – Nehemiah 8:1-8
  • Blessing for delighting in the Law of the LORD. – Psalm 1:2
  • The Law of the LORD is good for us. – Psalm 19:7-11, Psalm 119
  • The gospels reveal Jesus as the promised Messiah, who teaches on the kingdom and is recognized as the Word of God that we might believe and have life (See Matthew – John, John 1:1-3, 19:35, 20:30-31 *note Matthew’s numerous quotes of the Prophets.
  • Jesus testifies that the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms find their fulfillment in Him. – Luke 24:2-27, 36-45
  • Paul references the wilderness generation’s idolatry as a warning for the Corinthian church. He expressed how the written account of their failure is useful for the Corinthians. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-11
  • Paul reasons from the Old Covenant Scriptures to make different arguments relating to the New Covenant. -Romans 4-5, 9-11, Galatians 2:15 – 3:29
  • Paul instructs Timothy to hold to the pattern of sound teaching for the work going on in the Ephesian church . –1 & 2 Timothy
  • Paul testifies to the sufficiency of Scripture for the maturing of the saints. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  • The writer of Hebrews reasons from many Old Covenant texts to show its insufficiency when compared to Jesus. – Hebrews
  • James instructs us to be doers of the Word, not hearers only.– James 1:19-27
  • Peter elevates the divinely inspired Word over his experiences. – 2 Peter 1:16-21
  • God gave a vision to John and told him to write it down and distribute to particular churches. – Revelation 1:9-11
  • There is a special blessing for the reading, the hearing and obeying Revelation. – Revelation

The whole Bible of course is the essential and sufficient rule of faith for Christians, but I wanted to draw attention to a just a few specific places where it attests to its own importance throughout redemptive history.

God has graciously provided and sustained His Word that we might be convinced of sin, turn to Christ by faith and live a life of worship and holiness by the Spirit’s power according to the revealed will of God. That’s what it means to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

If we are going to be a faithful people who have been redeemed from sin and reconciled to worship our Creator, we must be people of the Book. God’s very mind, heart and will are revealed in Scripture.

To love God is to obey Him (John 14:15). To neglect the Scriptures, is to neglect God.
However, as we come to the Scriptures, with faith and trusting the Spirit’s illumination, we will see our sin more clearly. We will see the provision for our sin. We will better understand what worship looks like. We will rejoice in our blessed hope – the appearing of Christ! We will see Christ more clearly. We will behold our God! And like the Psalmist, we will sing –

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty, …

(Psalm 104:1)

 

 

1D.A. Carson, Worship by the Book, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2002), 26.

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Bible Reading: As a Means of War and Worship | pt. 2

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The most significant day in my life was the day I was regenerated and sought the LORD for forgiveness of my sins. One of the things that I recall very clearly from that night was not just the strong conviction of my specific sin, but a conviction of sin in general. I had an acute awareness of what was morally right and wrong. Sins that I tried to justify in the past, I could now easily see that they were offenses against God. It was truly a sign of God’s work of redemption. Later, I would come to understand that I had been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). Despite my elation with Christ, I realized that I still had remaining sin that I needed to deal with (Romans 7: 7-25) as well as I needed to learn how to live in a world of full of sin.

At that point in my Christian walk, though I had the desire, I hadn’t yet found a church home. In many ways, I felt alone as none of my friends were Christians. Without knowing that Christians were commanded to share the gospel, I began telling my friends about Jesus and my salvation, but they were not interested. Again without knowing what spiritual warfare was, I began to experience mild persecution (i.e. name calling and social ostracization). I realized that my allegiance to Christ meant that I was at war against the world (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15). Christ told His disciples, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) and this was what I was beginning to experience. However, in my excitement and sadness, I diligently sought the Scriptures for understanding, comfort and as a means of war – war against the world, my flesh and Satan.

The Bible: A Means of War
Let me be clear – we will make no progress in the faith apart from life-long reading, memorizing and studying Scripture. Both testaments clearly state that God’s people are to be students of His Word, which not only instructs us about Him, but also about how we are to walk in holiness (the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai – Exodus 20-23; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalms 19:7-11; Psalms 119; Colossians 4:16; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12, etc.). We will make no progress in holiness unless we make it a daily practice to fight sin – sin within us and around us. One of the chief methods of fighting sin is fighting the lies sin tells us and fighting temptations by reminding ourselves of truth, which is God’s word.

As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10 – the weapons of our warfare are not flesh, but have divine power. He also goes on to say that we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. Though not the only weapon, I believe one of the weapons Paul has in mind that has the power to destroy thoughts against God is God’s word. Ephesians 6:10-20, also written by Paul, reminds us that our enemy isn’t flesh and blood, but instead are rulers, authorities and cosmic powers (i.e. demons) and the last weapon mentioned in the Christian’s suit of armor imagery is the sword of the Spirit – which is the word of God. The Bible is our means of war!

Jesus’ Temptation and War with the Devil
Before Jesus began his public ministry, he was baptized by John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22). After he was baptized, both accounts note that the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove and the Father publicly affirmed that Jesus was indeed his beloved Son, with whom he was well pleased. In this Trinitarian scene, the Spirit descending on Jesus was very significant. As a human, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit to walk in obedience to the Father. Yet, the Father publicly declared him to be his Son, which points to Jesus’ deity. This was a reiteration of the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary (Luke 1:26-35).

But what happens next is significant. Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil for forty days (Matthew 4:1-2; Luke 4:1-2). Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness for forty days is likened to Israel’s forty year wandering in the wilderness en route to Canaan – the promised land. Israel, God’s son, was called to faithfulness during the journey from Sinai to Canaan, yet failed. Jesus, God’s Son, remained faithful to God during that time of testing. Israel’s downfall was a failure to believe God despite all he’d done for them and shown them in their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Jesus’ victory was rooted in obedience to God’s word.

At the onset of his public ministry, Jesus is tempted by the devil repeatedly. Both accounts detail the same series of temptations by the devil, but in different order. Two times the devil asks Jesus, “If you are the Son of God,…..” and one time he blatantly asks Jesus to worship him in exchange for the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:3-11; Luke 4:3-13). It is interesting to note that the devil’s questioning Jesus regarding his Sonship comes right after the Father publicly declared Jesus as his Son. What’s at the heart of the devil’s temptation is seeing what kind of Son of God Jesus will be – a faithful one or a faithless one like Adam and Israel. But note Jesus’ response. Jesus, the Son of God, empowered by the Spirit and the Logos of God quotes Scripture to the devil! “It is written…..” Jesus goes to war with the devil with Scripture! In response to the devil’s temptations and misuse of Scripture, Jesus responds to the devil from Deuteronomy.

If Jesus, the Son of God, relied on Scripture during his time of temptation, how much more do you and I need to have it written on our hearts and etched in our minds to fight sin that wages war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11) and to stand against the cosmic powers (Ephesians 6:12)?

If we will do our souls well, we will take up the joy and necessity of reading the Word of God frequently. For temptations will always be within and the devil waits for opportune times to assail us (Luke 4:13).

Read. Stand firm.

Bible Reading: As a Means of War and Worship | pt. 1

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The Good Book, God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures – these were some of the monikers I heard growing up regarding the Bible. As a child, I remember thinking it was a special book for older religious people. I remember seeing several Bibles at my grandparents’ home. Back then, I didn’t understand why they had so many Bibles. To their defense, I did see my grandparents reading their Bibles from time to time, but there were so many other copies in their home that seemed to serve as decoration pieces. Some of their Bibles were red, green, maroon, and black. Some had praying hands or a sword embossed on the front. I wondered if those were the extra special Bibles.

Then it happened – I got my own Bible when I was about 8. It was hardback with an artist’s depiction of “happy Jesus” walking through a meadow with a staff in His hand followed by smiling children. As a teen, I received a modern looking NIV Teen Bible with a computer generated picture of the toughing fingertips from Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”on the front and back with no words on the front cover. This definitely wasn’t my grandparents’ Bible! In fact, one wouldn’t know it was a Bible unless they read the spine of the book or opened it. I wrote my name on it and began to read portions of it. I was quickly surprised and pleased at the lack of “thees”, “thous”, “willeths” and “killeths”, which made the reading much more accessible. More than once, my grandfather encouraged me to read through the book of Proverbs by reading one chapter a day. I didn’t though. As a teen, I was unregenerate and had no desire to read the Bible, though I esteemed it to some degree.

By God’s grace, He saved me just a few months before my 24th birthday and one of the changes that I quickly noticed was a desire to know Him. I’d never been a voracious reader. I read enough to make good grades in school and earn an undergraduate degree, but reading wasn’t something I typically enjoyed. However, as a new believer, I now had a desire to read – to read the Bible. While I didn’t properly understand much of what I read, the Holy Spirit was allowing me to understand some key things I needed to know at that point in my life. This fueled my desire to keep reading the Bible and I noticed my affections for Christ being kindled as I pored over His word, sometimes for hours. That Bible I received as a teen was being put to use, but I soon got a study Bible that accelerated my understanding.

I remember taking my Bible to work and reading it during my lunch-break. After coming home from work, I would read for most of the evening only taking a break to eat dinner. Over time, I noticed new convictions for godliness and against ungodliness. I was being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) having my mind renewed (Rom. 12:2) by reading the word of God (Ps. 19:7-8; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). In my new found love, little did I know that the discipline of Bible reading would be so useful in times of great temptation and as a means of rejoicing through exaltation.

It would be some time before I understood the gravity these words spoken by Yahweh and the LORD, Jesus Christ –

“…. man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3)

It also would be some time before the thought crystallized in my mind that reading the Bible is a means of war and worship.

Your Favorite Bible Verse? | Pt. 2

Man-Reading-Bible235x275As I stated in the first part of this series, to correctly understand any passage of Scripture, we must understand a few important things about it.  Foundationally, we must understand its immediate context, its historical context, and the literary genre of the passage.

There are several reasons why we must correctly understand Scripture.  First, it communicates important things about the nature of God that we cannot afford to get wrong.  Second, we must correctly understand Scripture because it communicates God’s ultimate plan with Christ at the center of that plan (Luke 24:27).  Third, we must understand how we are to live in light of God’s Word (John 17:14-17). Misunderstanding Scripture leads us to wrong theology, wrong doxology, wrong living (misapplication) and possibly a Christless eternity.

My heart grieves over the abundance and acceptance of false teachers who prey on the ignorance of people, keeping the veil over their eyes while greatly profiting.  They will give an account for how they mishandled the Word, causing people to not see the glory of Jesus Christ.  However, false teachers are not the only ones to blame. Often we are too lazy to read and study our Bibles to test the devotionals and books we read and the sermons / talks we hear.  Scripture even tells us that sometimes we seek out false teaching for our own selfish desires (2 Timothy 4:3-4). We ought to take delight in the fact that God has sovereignly chosen to speak to us through His Word, which is readily available to us. Yes, when we read Scripture, God is speaking to us.

Another common verse that is misunderstood and misapplied is Philippians 4:13:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard this verse used in reference to someone’s desire to excel in athletics, their careers, or some other goal they have set for themselves.  Is Christ’s main concern that we reach our temporal goals? Is that what “all things” means?  Of course it can mean that if it’s ripped out of its immediate context and isolated.  We don’t read novels, articles or other books like that. Why do it to the Bible? Reading 101 tells us that words have definitions. Words form sentences, which form paragraphs, etc. that communicate ideas. When we remove a text from its immediate context, we distort its meaning.  The context in which a passage occurs always contributes to its meaning.  Discovering a meaning of a text is called exegesis.  This is why I think expositional consecutive teaching/preaching through books of the Bible is better than “hopscotch” teaching/preaching.  So let’s look at the context of Philippians 4 starting with verse 10.

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 8 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

The context of this passage reveals that at certain points in Paul’s life (see Acts 16 for background), he received some financial assistance from the Philippians as he was on mission spreading the gospel in various cities.  Paul is expressing his gratitude for how the Philippians repeatedly expressed their love and concern though this financial assistance.  Though Paul was expressing his gratitude, he was also saying that even if they didn’t offer assistance, he would be fine because the Lord had sustained him when money was plentiful and when it was scarce. Paul knew that he would be sustained and able to do all that the Lord wanted him to do because God would give him the grace to accomplish His will regardless of his financial situation.  That’s the meaning of this text.

  • Philippians 4:13 must be understood in the context of Philippians 4.
  • Philippians 4 must be understood in the context of Philippians.
  • Philippians must be understood in the context of the New Covenant.
  • The New Covenant must be understood as the fulfillment of the Old (Mosaic) Covenant.

We need to remember that the Bible is one grand metanarrative and each book must be understood in light of that.

* Listen to a conversation by R.C. Sproul and D.A. Carson about biblical exegesis.

Grace & Peace,

d.

50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10. . .

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. “The more one reads the Bible, the more one realizes that it is not of human origin. God is the Author of the Holy Scriptures.” Even if man could compose such writings himself, he wouldn’t because he is too prideful to expose himself the way the Scriptures exposes him. Moreover, natural man is too prideful to cast glorious light on God the way Scriptures do. As it says, “All Scripture is God breathed. . . “

As previously mentioned, I am reading the Scriptures chronologically and thoroughly enjoying it!  Currently, I’m in Genesis, which is nicely “interrupted” by Job, and though I’ve read it before a few times, the Holy Spirit is showing me things that I previously have not noticed.  These “discoveries” are providing greater insight to the character and essence of God and His redemptive plan with the Son, Jesus Christ, as the focal point.

One of my most current readings was Genesis 16-18.  Genesis 16 dealt with Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael.  Genesis 17 dealt with the covenant of circumcision for Abraham, his descendants and foreigners of his household and the son he would have with Sarah, Isaac. Genesis 18 shows us an interaction between the Lord and Abraham and the Lord’s plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  It was the conversation that took place between Abraham and Jehovah that grabbed my attention.

Genesis 18:16 reveals Jehovah’s choice to reveal His wrath against Sodom and Gomorrah.  Immediately, Abraham begins to intercede for the “righteous” dwelling in Sodom and Gomorrah, which was the dwelling place of his nephew, Lot and Lot’s family. (See Genesis 13:11-12).  Abraham couldn’t fathom the idea of God judging the righteous with the wicked – “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”  He implored God to spare the two cities on the account 50 righteous people.  God said He would if there were 50 righteous people there. Abraham again implored the LORD to spare the two cities on the account of 45 people.  Again, God said He would if there were 45 righteous people there.  With Abraham’s suggestion of 40, 30, 20, and 10 people, the LORD responded the same way.

While we cannot overlook the importunate intercession of Abraham, what caught my attention was the willingness of God to extend mercy and grace to the unrighteous on the account of the righteous at this point in the redemptive narrative. But should it really surprise me? For He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Grace & Peace,

d.